French authorities named three suspects in the deadly shooting at the Paris offices of a weekly newspaper that caricatured the Prophet Muhammad.
The men were suspected of methodically killing 12 people Wednesday, including the editor, before escaping in a car, in France’s deadliest postwar terrorist attack.
The suspects were named as Said Kouachi, 34, Cherif Kouachi, 32 — brothers and Paris-born French nationals of Algerian descent– and Hamyd Mourad, 18, whose nationality and background could not yet be determined.
Cherif Kouachi had been active between the years 2003 and 2005 in rallies urging French Muslims to join jihadists in Iraq in battle against the US army, Metronews reported. In 2008, he was convicted of terrorism charges and sentenced to three years and 18 months suspended sentence.
The suspects’ ID cards were found in an abandoned vehicle near the scene of the attack, according to Ynet.
Late Wednesday night, police said an anti-terror raid was under way in the northeastern city of Reims. According to ITele, a family member of Mourad was arrested in the operation.
Eight journalists, a guest and two police officers were killed, said Paris prosecutor Francois Molins.
The two policemen were named as Ahmed Merabet, 42, and Franck Brinsolaro, 49. Brinsolaro was reportedly the police bodyguard of the paper’s editor Stephane Charbonnier, widely known by his pen name Charb, who was killed along with four other cartoonists in the attack; Jean Cabut, the lead cartoonist at Charlie Hebdo with the pen name Cabu, Bernard Velhac, pen name Tignous and Jewish cartoonist Georges Wolinski, pen name Wolinski, Philippe Honoré, pen name Honoré.
Among the dead were also Bernard Maris, an economist who is a contributor to the newspaper and was heard regularly on French radio, Mustapha Ourrad, a copy editor at the paper, Frédéric Boisseau, a maintenance worker, Elsa Cayat, an analyst and columnist and Michel Renaud, a guest and friend of Cabut.
Eleven people were injured in the attack, four of them critically.
Late Wednesday, vigils for the victims were held in cities across the world.
The scene in Paris right now is a reminder of the importance of public spaces. I wish there were more here pic.twitter.com/qXvpXW5CkA
— pourmecoffee (@pourmecoffee) January 7, 2015
Shouting “Allahu akbar!” as they fired, the men also spoke flawless, unaccented French in the military-style noon-time attack on the weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo, located near Paris’ Bastille monument. The publication’s depictions of Islam have drawn condemnation and threats before — it was firebombed in 2011 — although it also satirized other religions and political figures.
President Francois Hollande called the slayings “a terrorist attack without a doubt,” and said several other attacks have been thwarted in France in recent weeks. Fears have been running high in France and elsewhere in Europe that jihadis returning from conflicts in Syria and Iraq will stage attacks at home.
France raised its security alert to the highest level and reinforced protective measures at houses of worship, stores, media offices and transportation. Schools closed across Paris, although thousands of people jammed Republique Square near the site of the shooting to honor the victims, holding aloft pens and papers reading “Je suis Charlie” — “I am Charlie.”
Top government officials held an emergency meeting and Hollande planned a nationally televised address later Wednesday evening.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which also left four people critically wounded, and was condemned by world leaders as an attack on freedom of expression, but praised by supporters of the Islamic State terrorist group.
Clad all in black with hoods and carrying assault rifles, the attackers forced one of the cartoonists arriving at the office building with her young daughter to open the door with a security code.
The staff was in an editorial meeting and the gunmen headed straight for Charbonnier, killing him and his police bodyguard first, said Christophe Crepin, a police union spokesman. Minutes later, two men strolled out to a black car waiting below, calmly firing on a police officer, with one gunman shooting him in the head as he writhed on the ground, according to video and a man who watched in fear from his home across the street.
The witness, who refused to allow his name to be used because he feared for his safety, said the attackers were so methodical he first mistook them for France’s elite anti-terrorism forces. Then they fired on the officer.
“They knew exactly what they had to do and exactly where to shoot. While one kept watch and checked that the traffic was good for them, the other one delivered the final coup de grace,” he said. “They ran back to the car. The moment they got in, the car drove off almost casually.”
The witness added: “I think they were extremely well-trained, and they knew exactly down to the centimeter and even to the second what they had to do.”
“Hey! We avenged the Prophet Muhammad! We killed Charlie Hebdo,” one of the men shouted in French, according to a video shot from a nearby building and broadcast on French TV. Another video showed two gunmen in black at a crossroads who appeared to fire down one of the streets. A cry of “Allahu akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great”— could be heard among the gunshots.
The video showed the killers moving deliberately and calmly. One even bent over to toss a fallen shoe back into the small black car before it sped off. The car was later found abandoned in northern Paris, the prosecutor said, and they hijacked a Renault Clio. There were conflicting accounts initially of whether the manhunt was for two or three attackers.
Corinne Rey, the cartoonist who said she was forced to let the gunmen in, said the men spoke fluent French and claimed to be from al-Qaida. In an interview with the newspaper l’Humanite, she said the entire shooting lasted perhaps five minutes, and she hid under a desk.
The security analyst group Stratfor said the gunmen appeared to be well-trained “from the way they handled their weapons, moved and shot. These attackers conducted a successful attack, using what they knew, instead of attempting to conduct an attack beyond their capability, failing as a result.”
Both al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have repeatedly threatened to attack France. Just minutes before the attack, Charlie Hebdo had tweeted a satirical cartoon of the Islamic State’s leader giving New Year’s wishes.
Charlie Hebdo has been repeatedly threatened for its caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad and other sketches. Its offices were firebombed in 2011 after an issue featured a caricature of the prophet on its cover. Nearly a year later, the publication again published Muhammad caricatures, drawing denunciations from the Muslim world because Islam prohibits the publication of drawings of its founder.
Another cartoon, released in this week’s issue and entitled “Still No Attacks in France,” had a caricature of a jihadi fighter saying “Just wait — we have until the end of January to present our New Year’s wishes.” Charb was the artist.
“This is the darkest day of the history of the French press,” said Christophe DeLoire of Reporters Without Borders.
In the winter 2014 edition of the al-Qaida magazine Inspire, a so-called chief describing where to use a new bomb said: “Of course the first priority and the main focus should be on America, then the United Kingdom, then France and so on.”
In 2013, the magazine specifically threatened Charb and included an article titled “France the Imbecile Invader.”
An al-Qaida tweeter who communicated Wednesday with AP said the group is not claiming responsibility, but called the attack “inspiring.”
President Barack Obama offered US help in pursuing the gunmen, saying they had attacked freedom of expression. He offered prayers and support for France, which he called “America’s oldest ally.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country stood united with France.
“We stand squarely for free speech and democracy. These people will never be able to take us off those values,” Cameron said in the House of Commons.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also condemned the attack as a “cynical crime,” and pledged cooperation in fighting terrorism.
Salman Rushdie, who spent years in hiding after his novel, “The Satanic Verses,” drew a death edict from Iran’s religious authorities, said all must stand with Charlie Hebdo “to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity.”
Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the Union of French mosques, condemned the “hateful act,” and urged Muslims and Christians “to intensify their actions to give more strength to this dialogue, to make a united front against extremism.”
On social media, supporters of militant Islamic groups praised the move. One self-described Tunisian loyalist of al-Qaida and the Islamic State group tweeted that the attack was well-deserved revenge against France.
The hashtag #JeSuisCharlie was trending as people expressed support for the weekly and for journalistic freedom. The weekly’s website collapsed earlier Wednesday but was later restored.
— Guido Fawkes (@GuidoFawkes) January 7, 2015
Charlie Hebdo has stirred controversy often over the years due to its biting depictions of Muslims and the prophet Muhammad.
Notably, in one of its September 2012 issues, the magazine’s cover depicted an elderly ultra-Orthodox Jew pushing a crippled Muslim man in a wheelchair with the caption “Intouchables 2,” an allusion to a French film.
In the inner pages of the magazine, caricatures featured Muhammad in a series of “daring positions,” according to a description in the French daily Le Figaro.
According to Reuters, the cartoons included “nude caricatures” of the prophet.
Charlie Hebdo’s offices have been attacked in the wake of past controversies stirred by its publications.
In 2011, Charlie Hebdo published an edition that featured the prophet Muhammad as a “guest editor.” The issue sparked widespread demonstrations, and the offices of the magazine were firebombed in what was widely assumed to be a revenge attack.
AFP contributed to this report.